Rangers drop six points behind Aberdeen, while Dundee move into the top six. Craig Fowler gives his take on the match at Dens
Dundee showed Rangers how best to utilise direct football
Graeme Murty has tried to make a couple of changes to his side’s approach since taking over as interim boss of Rangers. In contrast to Mark Warburton’s almost devoted loyalty to the 4-3-3, the current caretaker has tried to experiment a little. He went 4-4-2 towards the end of last week’s cup win over Morton, and altered things once more for the trip to Dens, going with a 4-2-3-1 system that deployed three natural strikers.
The plan was for Rangers to try and get it wide, to either James Tavernier on the right or Barrie McKay on the left, and put balls into the area. Needless to say, it didn’t have the desired effect, as Dundee won their first game against Rangers at Dens Park since the early 90s.
The hosts earned their historic result behind a well-drilled performance and gameplan which made the most of the talent at their disposal. Lining up in a 4-4-1-1, they looked to go direct to lone striker Marcus Haber. The October signing isn’t the most predatory of attackers, netting only four in 15 games, but there is no better target man in the Scottish top flight right now other than Moussa Dembele. His skills at holding the ball up, winning flick-ons and linking with advancing midfielders allows his team-mates to stay compact and defensively solid, while still retaining a threat in attack.
The front four, with Henrik Ojamaa supporting at No.10, flanked by Craig Wighton on the left and star man Mark O’Hara on the right, brought an array of skills, which enabled the home side to both go direct and build attacks through passing football. The two goals were an example of both. The first saw Dundee cut through the Rangers left-side. It was the weakest area of a defence full of weak areas, as Martyn Waghorn did a dismal job of offering protection for the defensively suspect James Tavernier, and provided an advantage Dundee were able to exploit time and again. The second goal came from a Haber flick-on, which found O’Hara charging down the right. He was brought down and when Kevin Holt’s cross found the back of the net via the far post, Dundee had enough for the win.
Rangers biggest problem isn’t the style of play
Ok, we probably knew this already. But the performance in this game puts to bed the theory that Rangers would have been a lot better off this season if they binned the pass-and-move approach favoured by Warburton. They were more direct against Dundee than they have been in just about any game since the beginning of the 2015-16 season, and it didn’t nothing to lift the performance of the team, quite the opposite in fact.
As we’ve already covered, Rangers looked to get bodies into the box and put in deliveries from wide areas. In the end, the crossing just wasn’t good enough, while central striker Garner couldn’t replicate the kind of target man role executed by Haber.
The visitors improved in the second half as they got the ball on the deck and tried to pass through Dundee. While the goal may have been a shot from the edge of the area which the goalkeeper should have done better with (more on that soon) it was at the end of a fluid move which saw Kenny Miller drop back, Emerson Hyndman advance, and some interaction between the attackers around the penalty box. An equaliser almost immediately followed when Miller hit the post after a clever corner-kick routine, while Harry Forrester’s late miss came at the end of another well-worked move.
The fact of the matter is, while Rangers could still do with varying their play a little, they don’t have the players to go direct as often as they did, especially against a Dundee side that battled for every ball in the air and on the deck.
Scott Bain is not a future Scotland international in this form
There was a report in the Daily Record earlier this week which suggested Celtic were looking at Scott Bain with a view to making a summer move after the player turned down a new deal to stay at Dens Park. Well, if Celtic have been watching, chances are they aren’t any more.
Garner’s strike did have a bit of movement on it, but you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was a Roberto Carlos special, given how much it fooled the Dundee stopper.
The goalkeeper deservedly earned plaudits for his performances after following manager Paul Hartley from Alloa to Dundee, but his form this season has badly tailed off. Rumours are this is down to his own personal discontent, having watched close friends Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart earn moves down south last summer.
If he’s to live up to his potential as someone who could make the Scotland jersey his own in the future, he’ll have to get back to his best form, especially if he wants to earn a lucrative move away from Dundee at the end of the campaign.
Joe Garner can score after all
After 11 games without a goal, the £1.5m striker finally ended his scoring drought. Though Bain should probably have done better, Garner deserves credit for showing the confidence to take the shot on.
Garner’s been the butt of many jokes, for understandable reasons. He cost three times as much as Moussa Dembele and now has one more goal than Dembele has hat-tricks. However, if someone’s going to benefit from a new manager taking over the Rangers first-team, it could be him.
He never looked at home in Warburton’s approach, and though neither he nor the team looked great against Dundee, a little more variance in the approach and an explicit task for Garner each week could see his performance levels rise.
He’ll never live up to the comparisons with Dembele which will follow his entire career in Scotland, but right now Rangers fans would just settle for a scoring record of one in three games rather than one in six.
Dundee are a much improved squad
After a home defeat by Partick Thistle back in late October, Paul Hartley looked done for. His team went bottom of the table and with a lack of quality in the side, particularly in attack, it was difficult to see how they were going to get themselves out of the predicament. While the signing of Haber has been massive, right throughout the squad they look a stronger proposition now than they did on that dismal Wednesday night before Halloween weekend.
Kevin Holt is one player who’s gone from a perennial source of fear in the eyes of his own fans to a steady performer on the left side, whether at full-back or wing-back. Cammy Kerr has continued to develop as the season has gone on, with fellow youngster Craig Wighton adds some spark to the attack, albeit in fleeting moments. Summer acquisition James Vincent has got over a dreadful start to life in Dundee and now appears to be forming an industrious midfield partnership with Paul McGowan, while January recruit Henrik Ojamaa already looks as if he can provide the link between midfield and attack that’s often been missing.
From sixth downwards, clubs are only a couple of bad results away from near disaster, but it appears increasingly unlikely that Dundee will find themselves in the bottom two, as they currently hold a six-point advantage over 11th place Hamilton.